Mining exploration companies in the Northwest Territories are getting a bigger boost than expected from the territorial government this year, after almost $1 million in exploration funding was announced last week — more than double the money available last year.

The money is intended to stimulate mineral exploration in the N.W.T., and it seems to be having its desired effect. Requests for funding were up 152 per cent over last year.

Tom Hoefer, executive director of the N.W.T. and Nunavut Chamber of Mines, says the increase in requests for funding reflects two things: the general need for financial help on the part of prospectors and junior mining companies in the N.W.T., and a general upturn in commodity markets, which encourages prospectors to get out on the land.

"We've started to come off the bottom," Hoefer said. "We've been in a real lull here over the last four years with poor markets. Last year we started to see that shifting. The last two conferences we went to... there was as lot more optimism in the air and companies were signaling that money was becoming available now, so people were breathing a sigh of relief."


Tom Hoefer, executive director of the N.W.T. and Nunavut Chamber of Mines sees good signals in the increase in demand for funding through the N.W.T. Mining Incentive Program. (CBC)

Exploration spending in the N.W.T. has yet to return to the highs seen in 2012, when commodity prices were booming, but Hoefer said government funding is a good way to jumpstart exploration, and it pays a dividend.

"There's been some work done in the past that shows that for every dollar that an exploration company spends, you get five dollars back in the community," he said.

Landen Powell, an outreach geologist with the NWT Geological Survey, said this year's competition was the possibly the tightest they've seen since the program was started in 2014.

"The margin between the programs that were funded and the programs that weren't was pretty slim," Landen said. "It was very close. It was a very competitive year."

More projects would have likely made the cut had more funding been available, he said.

Yukon operates a similar program, which this year awarded $1.6 million to mineral exploration projects in the territory. Yukon's ministry of resources estimates the $1.6 million in funding will leverage an additional $3.7 million in exploration spending in the territory.

This year's N.W.T. funding will be shared between seven companies and six individual prospectors for projects across the N.W.T., and includes exploration for gold, diamonds, zinc, and lithium.